When Fiction is Nonfiction

Earlier in the week, I came across an interesting and thought provoking blog post by a longtime favorite, Jess Witkins. Jess is currently working on a book of her own, and talked about the worst thing she ever did as a writer. If you don’t feel like following the link, I’ll “out” her for you: Jess once cheated on a boyfriend, all in the name of her craft.

She explains her actions thusly:

I truly believed, in the deep down pit of my soul, that I did what I did because I thought it would make me a better writer…I believed the only way I could write like all these other authors I loved was to “experience everything.”

I am not condoning her actions – but I am not condemning them, either. I kind of get it. Many people misguidedly believe you need to experience the things you write about in order to do so convincingly. There’s an excellent scene in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous that addresses this; a young journalist is interviewing a rock ‘n roll star and asks,

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?


Ooh. Those are deep questions…

Which, unfortunately, are never answered in the movie. It didn’t take me long to respond to Jess’s post (below), but her question weighed on me afterwards for quite some time. I came to realize the answer isn’t as black and white as I’d first thought.

Screenshot 2015-05-26 16.04.40

Obviously, I am not going to kill anybody in order to know what that feels like. I’m pretty sure Stephen King never broke down a hotel room door with a hatchet when researching “The Shining,” and it’s doubtful Michael Crichton actually reanimated a dinosaur when penning “Jurassic Park” (but, how cool would it be if he had!).

Smaller details, however? I think immersing yourself in the experience does help. I’ve had a bacon maple bar or two from Voodoo Doughnut in my lifetime – a place that plays a minor role in my book. I know the layout of the joint, and exactly how airy and delicious that first bite is…how the maple icing sticks to the roof of the mouth while the savoriness of the bacon cuts through the sticky sweetness, and…Voodoo

DAMN YOU, diabetes!

So, my point is, I can see it both ways. The most important trait a writer needs (besides the ability to write) is a good imagination. Experience can help round out the details, perhaps – but I don’t think you have to cheat on somebody in order to find out it’s wrong, or that it leads to a whole bunch of bad things, like guilt and hurt and insecurity. Jess closes by saying,

I often wonder if the life lesson overall wasn’t worth it. I learned what it means to hurt someone, I learned what it means to be hurt by a friend. I don’t think it helped me with craft or editing, but it helped remind me I’m human. I will make mistakes – foolish ones I won’t believe I did. But I will try better next time.

Tough way to learn a lesson, that’s for sure. But a great way to turn a negative into a positive.

I would love to hear what other writers think about the question posed here. Or what anybody thinks, really. Even if you’ve never commented before, go ahead and share your thoughts if you are so inclined.

And here’s that link to my novel, No Time For Kings. It’s not all about murder and mayhem. There is love and hope and optimism, too. And some mighty tasty doughnuts…

Holy Matrimony!

As I write this post, I can hear waves crashing on the shore. I’m in a hotel room in Newport, Oregon, with the balcony door open and the cool salt air wafting in. I can hear the occasional cries of seagulls over the roar of the surf. It’s been a constant in my ears since Friday night, as has the impenetrable gray overcast. I’ll miss these things when I return to civilization, but you know what? I’m taking back a pretty good souvenir.

I’m bringing home a wife.

This long weekend has been absolutely perfect. Back when I proposed to Tara on February 1, I had given no thought to the actual wedding part of our marriage. I was so relieved she said yes, I figured those details would come later. Neither of us wanted a big wedding, and we decided early on to keep it casual and fun. Just an intimate gathering, immediate family only, on the Oregon coast. So I found a beach house that would sleep the appropriate number of guests, and we picked a date. September 14, of course. Our two-year anniversary, and our lucky number. It couldn’t get more perfect than that.

Only it could, because there were 14 of us total, and we got married at 2:00 PM on the dot. 1400 hours.

Friday morning, our first stop was Portland. We decided to take advantage of a weekday off and hit up Bijou Cafe for brunch. The Rose City is notorious for long lines at brunch. There was even a Portlandia episode spoofing this. On a Friday morning, we were seated right away, and enjoyed a delicious meal. My chorizo hash with roasted red peppers and eggs over easy was fantastic, but the star of the show was the homemade organic ketchup. Tara loved her fluffy French omelette with mushrooms. Then, we walked to Voodoo Doughnut, where we had ordered a wedding “cake.” Only it wasn’t really a cake, but an assortment of heart-shaped doughnuts personalized with our names, because we wanted to keep the theme quirky. After waiting in line nearly half an hour we got to the counter, and told them we were there to pick up our order.

They had no record of our order.

And this is what separates good places from bad. We were devastated, and Tara was near tears. We told them we were getting married the next day and on our way out of town, and the manager came out and said he would make things right as best he could. We didn’t get the heart-shaped doughnuts we wanted, but we did end up with cream-filled doughnuts with blue and orange highlights (go, Broncos!) and our names on them, plus an assortment of others – Maple Bacon Bars, Voodoo Dolls, Blazer Blunts – and were only charged for two doughnuts. It cost us a whopping $3. They may have screwed up our order, but they made it right, and that’s what counts in the end. I love Voodoo Doughnut.

Then it was on to the coast. We arrived at the beach house about 3:30 in the afternoon, slightly ahead of my parents, Scott, and Esther. We did a quick walk through and were blown away by the beauty of the place. It’s a tri-level home on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with five bedrooms. Ours upstairs featured a king bed with a pillow top mattress sitting on a platform immediately next to the window, with an incredible view of the ocean. It was so relaxing sleeping there with the window open and the roar of the ocean in our ears. Tracy, David, Anne, and little Anthony arrived a few hours later, and we had a blogging friend from Seattle, Nancy, and her friend Brian stop by for a visit. They happened to be vacationing on the Oregon coast at the same time. Papa Murphy’s pizzas were consumed as everybody chatted it up and got to know one another. Finally, Tara’s dad and his girlfriend, and her sisters Maggie and Jessie, showed up about 10 PM after a flight from Vegas and a long drive to the coast in the dark. We stayed up until nearly 1 AM before finally making our way to bed.

Saturday morning dawned. Our wedding day. Tara handed me a card that nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was, after all, our anniversary, and the start of the most special day of our lives. The morning was a blur as we ran errands and the clock ticked down to Zero Hour. Her dad is an avid fisherman and had chartered a boat for their group to do a little fishing. “A little fishing” turned out to be 30 dungeness crabs and about 40 lbs. of ling cod and sea bass. Perfect for our clambake that afternoon! Suddenly the officiant, Elizabeth, was there. And then it was time.

We stepped out onto the back deck. There was a perfect spot on the landing for Tara and I to face each other and recite our vows while our guests gathered on the deck. What an amazing and beautiful spot for a wedding; I get shivers still just thinking about it: the Pacific Ocean stretched endlessly behind and below us, the crashing waves, the windswept trees, and the two of us, surrounded by the people we care about the most in our lives. There was no wedding dress or tuxedo, because we wanted it casual and quirky; I wore a tuxedo t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, and Tara wore a simple but nice dress shirt and capris. She immediately started crying so I slipped on my checkered sunglasses in order to keep it together myself. Which I did, thankfully. I had been very nervous about reciting vows, because we each wrote our own, and that’s a scary thing, pouring your heart out in front of everybody. But they were perfect, and the whole ceremony was quick, lasting about seven minutes.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” she said, and introduced us as Mr. and Mrs. Mark Petruska.

“Whoo-hoo! Let the party begin!” somebody shouted, and it did. After filling out paperwork the officiant went on her way, and the rest of the afternoon included a wine and food pairing demonstration by David, who is a sommelier by trade, and our clambake, with fresh crab that had still been swimming around (or whatever crabs do in the ocean) earlier that morning, along with clams, shrimp, red potatoes, and corn. Tracy made a delicious batch of clam chowder that was as tasty as any restaurant’s, and we all just had a lot of fun well into the night. And a lot of drinks. A certain bride of mine who shall remain nameless partook of a bit too much alcohol and was delayed in climbing into bed, but she did have a lot to celebrate.

Sunday morning we had fresh fish for breakfast (hey, why not?) and we sadly bid farewell to our guests, who left in groups. It was just Tara and I left, and we locked up the house before heading south to Newport, where we had a reservation at the Elizabeth Street Inn, a hotel we discovered last December. We splurged for a jacuzzi suite and were able to talk them into an early check-in, so we climbed into the hot tub and watched the Broncos game on TV. Then we, and, and then we, and…well, never mind. We drove down the coast for a bit, then stopped in at Georgie’s Seafood Grille for dinner. We had a table next to the window with a view of the ocean, and some pretty damn tasty seafood. Then it was back to the room for a relaxing evening, more jacuzzi time, and a very intense episode of Breaking Bad. Some time later we tore ourselves away from the balcony and the ocean and the mist to go to bed.

And here we are. All that’s left is to check out, grab breakfast, and make the trek back home. Reality intrudes tomorrow, and I’m not happy about that, but in the end, I could not have asked for a more perfect wedding. Everybody had a great time and got along wonderfully, and they all really liked the beach house and the setting. Our wedding was perfect for us: not at all stuffy or formal, but still serious and romantic and, I can’t stress this enough, FUN. Best wedding ever. By the way, the officiant told us that 90% of the people she marries these days meet online. I thought that was pretty interesting. A lot of them opt for fun and quirky weddings like ours, too. Why not? Life is short – you might as well do what makes you happy!

I did. I married my best friend, my soulmate, the love of my life. Nothing could ever make me happier than that.

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Why I’m Here (Not Philosophically Speaking)

Saturday night, Tara and I met up with a friend from Seattle for drinks at our favorite Portland hangout, Interurban. They had dinner reservations elsewhere, so she and I headed down the street to a restaurant that specialized in Southern food (think hush puppies and collard greens). Good stuff. Then, when we were walking back to our car, I was marveling over the houses in this great Portland neighborhood, and snapped a photo of this one.

PDX House

This is exactly the type of house I so desperately want, and the reason why I’m always bugging Tara about moving to Portland and buying a house. Not tomorrow, but someday. We’re always driving or walking through really cool Portland neighborhoods like this one, and I am forever marveling over the houses. This one has it all: charm, beauty, bay window, fireplace, front porch, rose bushes, mature trees, big yard, great location. Even my soon-to-be-mother-in-law, who shares Tara’s “Vancouver is better” philosophy, admitted that this house would be a nice one to call home. You may be thinking, why not buy a house like that in Vancouver? and I would grant you points in that argument except for the simple fact that Vancouver does not have houses like this. Maybe a few downtown, but trust me, you don’t want to live downtown. By and large the older houses are single-story ranch style homes, and the newer ones are all modern cookie-cutter architecture. They’re just not the same. And you don’t see a lot of rose bushes (or old hitching posts) in the ‘Couve, either. Best of both worlds? Maybe, but the houses pale in comparison.

So this photo represents my dream house. Maybe someday all the stars will align and it’ll happen. We’ll see.

On a related note, a blogging friend recently posed the question, why do you live where you live? I’ve talked a lot about why I live here and what I love about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared how I came to live here, and that was the basis of her post. So here’s the skinny.

As I’ve mentioned, I grew up an Air Force brat. We moved every three years on average, and I never had a place to call home. My dad’s assignments took us all over: Hawaii (three separate times), New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, and California. By the time I was a senior in high school living in the Bay Area, I had a fascination with the Pacific Northwest, even though I had never been there. It seemed lush and green, rugged and beautiful. I had a dry erase board hanging in my bedroom with a picture of the Oregon coast, which I would stare at sometimes, oddly captivated. One day I came home from work and said to my then-wife, “do you want to take a trip to Seattle this weekend?” She jumped at the chance, and we embarked upon the most spur-of-the-moment trip of our married lives. We knew nothing about the city and ended up staying in a real trashy motel on the main strip out by SeaTac airport. Turns out it was the hunting ground for the Green River Killer, still at large at that time. Used drug needles in the parking lot almost scared us away, but we toughed it out and had an amazing time. Did all the usual touristy stuff (the Space Needle, monorail, Pike Place Market) and took a ferry to Victoria, B.C. We had a great time, weren’t murdered by a serial killer, and the trip fueled my longing to live up here.

“Up here” was Seattle, by the way. It was really the only place on my radar. Grunge was happening, Singles was a hit, and man, I wanted that life.

A year or two later, an opportunity opened up through work. The company I worked for was expanding into the Pacific Northwest, and offered me the chance to relocate, along with a promotion and a raise, if I was interested. Talk about everything falling into place! The only problem was, they were torn between Seattle and Portland. We had regional managers in each location, both pushing for the office in their city. So the ex and I took another trip up here, driving this time. We spent a couple of days in Portland first, and while we liked it, it didn’t excite us as much as Seattle. She was born and raised in San Jose and felt PDX was much too small for her liking. We had a decent time – visited downtown, had some great seafood, I ordered my first-ever latte “to blend in with the locals,” took a side trip to Multnomah Falls – but then we continued on to Seattle, and fell in love all over again. We even looked at some homes up there. We both desperately hoped my company picked Seattle for the location of their new branch office.

They picked Portland.

In that regard, they were ahead of the game. Portland in 1994 was nothing like it is today. It wasn’t even remotely hip or trendy. There was no Voodoo Doughnut or Bunk Sandwiches, no food cart pods, and nobody on The Food Network or The Travel Channel was raving over cool Portland destinations. Vintage stores were called thrift shops and people went there out of necessity. Hawthorne Boulevard was still kind of dicey, and places like Alberta Street and Mississippi Avenue – a couple of our favorite haunts now – were downright scary. We drove through that area once, and made sure we had our doors locked and windows rolled up. George Bush’s staff nicknamed Portland “Little Beirut” in ’92, and the idea of a television show called Portlandia was laughable then.  The city wasn’t on anybody’s radar, trust me.

To say we were disappointed is an understatement. We had to so some real soul searching, in fact, and almost decided against the whole move. It would be a huge life-changing event, and did we really want to take a chance on a city we knew virtually nothing about? In the end the lure of the Pacific Northwest proved too strong to resist, and I was all in. So was she, and in November of 1994, we drove north, to a new home and a new life.

It didn’t take long to fall completely in love with the place. And then the rest of the country discovered it, too. Nowadays, I think back to my company’s decision to locate their office here, and breathe a sigh of relief that they didn’t choose Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Emerald City, too. It’s a great place to visit. I just can’t really imagine living there, not when Portland is – in my humble opinion – so much better.

That’s my story. How about you? Why do you live where you live?

Might As Well Call It McVoodoo

Speaking of local eateries…

I read yesterday that Voodoo Doughnut is expanding outside of Oregon. Sorry, Jess – they’re not coming to Wisconsin. But they are opening a location in Denver this fall. And I’ve gotta say, the news does not thrill me.

I have nothing against the Mile High City. I’m quite fond of it, as a matter of fact. Home to my favorite NFL team (go, Broncos!). Great scenery. Fun vibe. In fact, Tara and I are planning a trip there this October. We’re planning on catching a Broncos game – a lifelong dream for me. And maybe touring the haunted Stanley Hotel in the Rockies. Our itinerary is undecided yet, but one thing is certain: we won’t be stopping at Voodoo Doughnut.

I’m not a hater. Voodoo Doughnut is awesome. They put the bacon maple bar on the doughnut map. What bugs me is, they’re quintessentially Portland. A local institution. I often read Portland-themed blogs, and have come across many a post from people visiting here on vacation. There are two spots they always go to: Powell’s Books, and Voodoo Doughnut. Both are Portland icons. Take them away, plop them down somewhere else, and they’re no longer as special. They don’t define the city they way they used to. 

New York New York Las Vegas
I thought it was surrounded by water…?

What if somebody wanted to recreate the Statue of Liberty? And build it in, let’s say, Las Vegas? That would be an outrage, right?

Oh. Wait a minute…

But I stand by my point. And kind of feel a bit hypocritical wishing that In-N-Out Burger and White Castle would open up franchises out here (although in those cases, there are a lot more than just three locations like Voodoo has). I don’t want a Voodoo Doughnut on every corner. Hell, I was kind of irritated when they opened a shop in Eugene, and that’s just two hours down Interstate 5. If you can get a Grape Ape or a Tangfastic or a Triple Chocolate Penetration or a Gay Bar or a Maple Blazer Blunt in Denver – or in San Francisco or New York or Los Angeles someday, as the article alludes to – then it’s no longer a Portland institution. You might as well change the name to McVoodoo.

It’s bad enough that Stumptown Coffee was sold to a bunch of New Yorkers, and Andy Ricker (Pok Pok and a number of other notable Portland eateries) is opening up versions of his restaurants in New York. But don’t water down our beloved Voodoo! Keep Portland weird. Don’t make other cities weird.

Keep PORTLAND weird!
Keep PORTLAND weird!

What’s next? Bunk Sandwiches in Chicago? Pine State Biscuits in Atlanta? Boke Bowl in Sioux City? Say it ain’t so!

A city needs something to point to and say, that’s ours. For ten years, in Portland that has been Voodoo Doughnut. Now, the best we can say is, that’s ours…and also theirs. It’s the end of an era. The “magic in the hole” feels a little less magical this morning.

But such is life.

On a related note, I am slightly changing the focus of my blog. I’ve already updated the About Me page to reflect this, and changed my tagline to Peace, Love & Wordiness in the Pacific NorthwestThat’s the heart of the change. I love this place so much, I want it to take a starring role in the blog, instead of being relegated to occasionally recurring guest. I’ll still write about all my usual topics – writing, pop culture, my upcoming nuptials – but I want to add more stuff about Portland and the Pacific Northwest. This post is an excellent example. I still hope to appeal to a wide audience, but I hope locals especially find the blog and start reading. I’m not looking to become the definitive voice of the Pacific Northwest or anything, but…

…well, actually, that sounds like a great thing to aspire to, after all. I wouldn’t be upset with a title like that.

So, thanks for continuing to follow along, regardless of where you live. My readers range from as far away as Ecuador to as close as the other side of the bed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. You guys rock.

You Had Me at Bacon

Saturday was an amazing day. Everywhere I went, people stared. They complimented me. Smiled when they walked by. One woman stopped us while we were shopping for groceries, and asked if she could take my picture. I was more than happy to oblige. Talk about a great day for the ego!

Then again, it wasn’t really me that people were so drawn to. It was my shirt. IMAG0833

Last week, my parents gave me a couple of belated birthday presents, since they were out of town on the big day. One of them was a red t-shirt that says, You Had Me at Bacon. For some reason, I have a reputation for loving bacon. Truth is, I’m not even sure why. I like bacon just fine, but no more so than the next guy. So I’ve indulged in the occasional maple bacon bar from Voodoo Doughnut. What self-respecting Portlander hasn’t? And, fine, I might have bought a bottle of bacon vodka once. I didn’t even like it all that much, even as a base for Bloody Marys. And okay, sure, there are rumors swirling about that I have eaten chocolate-covered bacon strips. For the record, it was one chocolate-covered bacon strip, no “s” on the end, not plural. Whatever. I also had a chocolate-covered Pringle, but nobody has ever given me a t-shirt that says, You Had Me at Stackable Potato Crisps. So I find it amusing when friends post links to bouquets of bacon roses and bacon cakes and other bacon-related paraphernalia on my Facebook wall. I would sum up my feelings for bacon thusly:

I don’t pine for the swine, but I do think it’s fine.

But yeah, I liked the shirt. I just wasn’t expecting the reaction it generated. We ended up in downtown Portland, strolling through the farmer’s market before heading to the food cart pods for a lunch break, and everywhere we went people commented on my shirt, either directly to me or behind my back as I passed by. They smiled, they pointed, they laughed (with me, not at me, I assume). I have never received so much attention in my life. And I ate it up.

Ironically (or maybe not), I ended up at a food cart called The People’s Pig for lunch. “Did we have you at bacon?” the proprietor asked. I chuckled politely and ordered a porchetta sandwich, which is technically an Italian pork roast, but I suppose it’s close enough to count. And then we were walking by a caramel corn vendor who said, “You look like a guy who would appreciate bacon-topped caramel corn” and, well, suddenly we found ourselves with a small cup of bacon-topped caramel corn, which was admittedly tasty, though we could only manage a few bites.

My shirt, it seems, turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What do you think of bacon? Like it, love it, tolerate it, or loathe it? Have you ever worn an item of clothing that attracted attention?


Celebrities & Serial Killers

Saturday evening, after a busy day running errands, we stopped at Papa Murphy’s to pick up pizza. I ordered, and the cashier asked for a name. Without missing a beat, I gave him a name.


My alter ego for the day.
My alter ego for the day.

First off, he didn’t ask for my name. Second, I love to mess around with people in the dining industry. In a good-natured way, of course. Many a time I have given a phony name in a restaurant when there’s been a wait. You should see the looks on people’s faces when the hostess announces “table for the Donner party” or “Spielberg, party of four.” Celebrities and serial killers are the best – watch heads swivel when they call “Bundy” or “DiCaprio” – as are ethnic names to which you clearly don’t belong, if you can handle a little political incorrectness. I’m particularly fond of Chang myself. It’s also fun to reserve a table under your real name while adding a fake title. “Doctor” and “Agent” work particularly well, especially if you throw in a little knowing wink. Oh, and once I whipped out my wallet, flashed a library card, and told them I was the county health inspector and there’d been a complaint.

Good times, good times.

Once, when I was living in California, I was eating dinner with a friend when a cockroach walked across the table. Literally. When we brought this up to the attention of the manager, all he did was acknowledged that there was an ongoing roach problem. Suffice it to say, we never ate there again. That’s got nothing to do with my story, but I just suddenly remembered it and had to share.

Saturday was a busy day. The highlight? Tara and I went ring shopping. I’d only ever done this once before in my life, and that was over twenty years ago, so I’m quite the novice when it comes to rings. Which is why, when we walked into Morgan Jewelers first and the sales lady asked us what we were looking for, all I could summon was a blank stare. Tara wasn’t much better. We just looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Finally, I managed to spit out “rings!” – but that wasn’t very helpful. So she chose one at random for Tara, and it was beautiful, but also very, very expensive. Thousands of dollars more than we had budgeted. I wanted to ask her where’s the clearance section? but thought that would be in poor taste. Everybody in there was dressed nicely, the men in suits, the women in fancy outfits. I wanted to concoct some story about us being unemployed or homeless but Tara would have none of that. Finally we conveyed to them what we were hoping to spend, and they showed us some rings in our price range, but then things got weird because The Bee Gees started playing in the store, “Night Fever,” and while that is a great song it is also closely associated with my first wedding because I did this dance routine to it during the reception (I kid you not) and so, just like that but through no fault of their own, Morgan lost our business. I couldn’t have bought rings there with that song playing; it was too weird a juxtaposition of past and present, and probably bad karma, to boot.

So we walked upstairs to Fred Meyer Jeweler’s and this time, when we walked in, we were forceful and confident, spelling out exactly what we wanted. I have a good association with Fred Meyer Jewelers, because they are the ones who cut my old wedding ring off back in 2006, freeing me from the shackles of a doomed union. There was a certain appropriateness in buying new rings there, almost like coming full circle (get it, circle? Rings? Round?). And we did, as a matter of fact, find rings we both liked. White gold, diamonds, in our price range. Here’s Tara’s engagement ring. Pretty nice, huh?

Tara's engagement ring.
Tara’s engagement ring.

Things are coming together nicely for the wedding. We found a great beach house that will sleep 16, so we just have to reserve it and we’ll be good to go. We’ll just have to find an officiant, figure out what we’re wearing (think: casual – I want flip-flops), come up with some invitations, order a wedding cake (we’re actually considering Voodoo Doughnut), and we’ll be good to go. Who says planning a wedding is hard? So far, this has been pretty simple! Then again, it’s easy when it’s a second wedding and it’s going to be small and you aren’t worried about taking things too seriously.

We’ll figure out where to stick the backup dancers as the date draws closer.

To compensate for a busy Saturday, we didn’t do jack on Sunday. Never even changed out of pajamas or took showers. And it was heavenly, even when we had unexpected visitors drop by (hi, mom and dad). We finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy and made brownies and just generally lounged.

Peace Out,

Go-Go-Go? No. Slow.

This past weekend, Tara and I did something very unusual.


This wasn’t our initial plan. We had lofty ideas that included pumpkin patches and corn mazes, but a sudden bout of illness (her), a pair of lackadaisical attitudes (Audrey and Rusty), and an abrupt shift in the weather (Mother Nature) all conspired to give us an unexpectedly laid-back weekend. To be fair, we didn’t really not do anything. There was a trip to the movies on Saturday afternoon to see “Looper,” which was excellent. We detailed our cars on Sunday, and went shopping. But for us, that constituted an unusually quiet weekend. In the six months that Tara has lived here, we’ve rarely done so little over the weekend. Usually we’ve got concerts to attend and beaches to visit and trails to hike and farmer’s markets to explore and campgrounds to pitch tents in. Not getting up early in order to rush off somewhere for a change felt weird.

Weird and good.  Lounging in bed until 8:00? Cooking a leisurely breakfast? Sipping hot coffee on the patio while thumbing through magazines? Actually clearing shows off the DVR rather than letting them pile up in great unwatched digital heaps? These all felt like little luxuries after months of go-go-go!

Don’t get me wrong. I like go-go-go. (I also like The Go-Go’s. “Our Lips Are Sealed” was one of my favorite songs from the 80s. But I digress). It’s just that, every once in a while, it’s nice to hit the pause button and relax instead.

Our friends are forever making comments about how we’re always doing something fun. I’ll admit, I was the busiest unemployed person in the history of unemployment. I never let a little thing like no money stop me from embarking upon one adventure after another, and when Tara moved here in April, she adopted the same philosophy. We had two and a half months to play together, and play we did. I can’t help that our exploits were plastered all over Facebook, usually accompanied by photographic evidence of all the places we had been. We just like to share snippets of our lives and keep our friends in the loop! Still, once we both landed jobs, more than one person remarked, “Great – now you guys will be too busy working to get out and do amazing things all the time!”

Comments like those made me wonder if we truly are unique in the way we maximize our spare time. I thought everybody went out and did things, taking advantage of the local and regional offerings, but maybe I was wrong. I had one friend who never ventured into Portland because he hated “dealing with the hassle of it all.” The “hassle” involves driving across a single bridge. Portland is literally ten minutes away. I have another friend, and I’m sorry if he’s reading this and recognizes himself, but he is constantly dropping hints about me taking him to Voodoo Doughnut, because he’s never been. First of all, that’s unconscionable. VD is awesome! (Err…you know what I mean). Second, it’s just a quick drive downtown. Why rely on somebody else to do something fun? Go out and make your own happiness! I was on my own for five years, and I never let that stop me from going to the movies or grabbing a bite to eat from a food truck downtown or making a trip to the coast or, hell, driving to DAYTON FREAKIN’ OHIO and back. Would I rather have had somebody wonderful like Tara to share those adventures with? Of course! But I didn’t stop living just because I was alone. Besides, that’s why they invented prostitutes.

Oh, relax. I’m kidding.

When I think of all the things I would have missed out on if I’d decided it was “too much hassle” to leave the house, I cringe. I’d have never experienced the sweet deliciousness of freshly picked huckleberries, or hiked across the pumice plain of an active volcano to get a close-up shot of the waterfall spilling from its crater, or roamed the blue-and-yellow rooms of a museum devoted entirely to canned lunchmeat in a tiny Minnesota town few people have ever heard of. And, I’d have never eaten a maple bacon bar. My life would be far less rich for the lack of experience, that’s for sure.

So, yeah. An occasional relaxing weekend is fine and dandy, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. I couldn’t do it all the time. Which is why in the next month we’re planning to conquer the Fruit Loop in Hood River, and spend a weekend next to the ocean, and watch a favorite band play live, and take another trip to Seattle.

Life’s just far too short not to do those things, you know?

Apple Juice With a Bacon Swizzle Stick

I miss apple juice.

Or maybe it’s the idea of apple juice I miss. I just had a cup last week in the hospital. It was the first beverage I drank that actually had flavor following my surgery. After days of being hooked up to an IV and subsisting on nothing more than ice water, it tasted like a nectar from the gods. Sweet and succulent and oh, so delicious. Paired with chicken broth, I felt like I was dining on lobster and champagne that evening.

Arsenic? Lead? Sugar? Yummy! (Courtesy of inhabitots.com).

But then, the very next day, I started hearing news reports about how apple juice is no good for you. How this study showed that dangerous levels of arsenic were found in samples of apple juice. Damn you, Dr. Oz and FOX News. You’re both nothing but a bunch of killjoys! If I want to ingest poison, I should be able to do so without feeling guilty about it. The FDA is saying hey, relax, arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil, and we need to stop getting our panties in a bunch because the levels found in apple juice are well within accepted safety standards. Consumer Reports says those standards are much too high and need to be lowered, and the whole thing has turned into one big pissing match. The loser? Me! Because now I’m going to think twice before drinking apple juice, and that’s just sad. Even without worrying about arsenic (and lead, too – when it rains, it pours), they say apple juice contains too much sugar, is high in calories, etc. They’re vilifying it like the poor ol’, much-maligned Big Mac.

That ain’t right.

You know what else I miss? Bacon. Ever since I landed in the hospital, I’ve had to contend with well-meaning friends who keep telling me to “lay off the bacon” now. For some reason, over the years I have developed a reputation as a person who loves bacon. Well, okay…I do love bacon. Fair enough. But I don’t eat any more of it than the average person! It’s an occasional treat and nothing more. Boy, you write one blog post about the maple bacon bar at Voodoo Doughnut and you’re branded for life. And okay, I suppose in retrospect buying that bottle of bacon vodka a couple of months ago didn’t help. Nor did posting a picture of the chicken fried bacon Tara, the kids and I enjoyed  at Slappy Cakes the day before Thanksgiving…which, coincidentally, happened to be two days before I ended up in the hospital. In my defense – in all of our defenses – we split two pieces four ways. It was merely a decadent taste. But oh, how everybody latched onto that when I was suddenly near death hooked up to an IV in great pain. The truth is, I first started feeling sick after eating leftover turkey that morning, a food that is generally considered to be healthy. There’s no rhyme or reason for what happened to me. Was it related to diet? Perhaps, or it may have been the trigger, or none of the above. Even the doctors don’t know. Now, I am not complaining about my friends’ admonitions or warnings. It just means they care about me and want to see me healthy, and I appreciate that very much. I intend to take care of myself, and have already made adjustments toward a lower-fat, less-sodium diet. I am also stubborn – that would be the Taurus in me – and maintain a philosophy that life is too short to give up everything that makes you happy, and practicing moderation is key. I believe in long-term goals and short-term indulgences, and intend to partake in both.

At least I didn't cook my turkey like this! (Courtesy of madville.com).

In fact, I’m kinda feeling like a nice, tall glass of apple juice right now. With a crispy strip of bacon for stirring.

And then there’s alcohol. I haven’t had a sip in fourteen days, which is some kind of record for me. Am I a teetotaler now? Ha! Fat chance. I am way too addicted to Bloody Marys to ever give them up, and I’ve even started liking beer now. It’s just that I haven’t felt like having a drink since getting sick. Every doctor and nurse in the hospital asked me if I was a drinker, and I said socially, which by my definition was 1-2 drinks a day, five days a week. Nobody ever looked alarmed when I said that, but the news wasn’t exactly met with approving glances, either. One nurse suggested my sweaty brow might have been a reaction to booze withdrawal, but in reality the thermostat was simply too freakin’ high in the room. I was actually offended by her comment – can’t a guy perspire without getting the second degree?! –  and the moment she left I snuck a few shots of whiskey in order to forget the sting of her words.

I kid, I kid.

And I will be the first to admit that a near-daily Happy Hour was more of a ritual or a habit for me than anything else. Tsk, tsk – I know. I considered it almost a birthright; I’m a writer, after all, and we stereotypically have a long and prosperous association with alcohol. I have come to realize, since returning home, that the slight buzz does not make up for all those empty calories. I will still enjoy the occasional drink – but it’ll be when I feel like it, not because it’s 3:55 5:00. Once again, it’s all about moderation.

Love the concern, appreciate the advice, but don’t you worry – I don’t intend on going anywhere (and by that, I mean dying) anytime soon.

A trip to Ely, on the other hand, is right around the corner. In seventeen more days!

And if you think I’m stepping onto an airplane without a drink or two to calm my nerves, you’re out of your mind.

Bleu Cheese in my Ice Cream & Belly Dancers on my Brain

Portland is a city known to be a tad “left of center,” if you will. Exactly why I love it: I’m a little left of center. That’s called symbiosis: we have a complementary relationship. I appreciate the quirky, and the Rose City is excellent at dishing it up. Case in point, and one I’ve mentioned before: Voodoo Doughnut. Their maple bacon bar has become infamous. It was probably the oddest food combination I’d eaten around town…until yesterday, when I found myself plowing through a single-scoop cup of Pear and Bleu Cheese ice cream.

Choosing which flavor to divulge in took real effort!

Which, by the way, was not the weirdest flavor on the menu. (That award goes to either the Brown Ale and Bacon or the Three Berry Barbecue). The purveyor of this frozen madness? Salt & Straw Ice Cream, a food-cart-turned-brick-and-mortar ice cream shop that was recently voted as a runner-up in a list of Portland’s best ice cream joints. I’ve always been an adventurous eater, so I had no qualms about ordering such a uniquely flavored ice cream treat. And the verdict? Delicious, of course. Creamy and smooth, riddled with chunks of diced pear and just enough bleu cheese to offer a tangy contrast to the sweetness of the cream and fruit, I was hooked from the first bite. Delicious! And I pretty much never order ice cream in the middle of the day – especially an overcast day in which the temperature is hovering in the mid-sixties – but I couldn’t resist the allure, and the positive press, of Salt & Straw.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon hanging out at the Alberta Street Fair. This funky, artsy neighborhood in northeast Portland has become one of my favorite haunts this year, and I find myself returning often. Every August they close down thirty blocks of the street for a fair that includes arts and crafts vendors, juggling, magicians, music, food carts and booths, and even – be still my heart – belly dancing. How could I pass up that sort of lineup?

Answer: I couldn’t.

The best part of the street fair is probably the people watching. Alberta is home to a colorful parade of hipsters, bohemians, hippies, goths and skaters, all intermingling comfortably with more straight-laced types. There were plenty of families present, as well, small kids in tow who were happy with the offerings of balloons and face painting. A little bit of something for everyone, as it turns out, including a beer garden and three “stages” with a rotating series of entertainers throughout the day. I watched a magician/juggler who would have been right at home on America’s Got Talent – the dude contorted his body through a stringless tennis racket (it helped that he was super skinny, but still, that’s quite the feat); watched a camouflage-bedecked guy give a tarot card reading to an Asian kid; enjoyed a musical set from a three-piece outfit called The Bottlecap Boys who were so good I gave them money; dined on garlic and lemon chicken from The Horn Of Africa; and drunk in the sexy allure of a belly dance troupe called the Gypsy Heart Tribal. Turns out one of the dancers – by far the most sensual – totally wanted me. Think I’m kidding? Check out this look she’s giving me.

The girl on the right totally wants me.

And don’t call it “wishful thinking,” either. I see the desire in her eyes!

There was even an author there – or, to be technical, the wife of an author – who had set up a booth and was selling her husband’s self-published novel. I struck up a conversation with her, telling her that I had just published a book myself and was thinking of buying booth space and trying to sell it at a similar venue in the near future. She said they were there last year and sold “a ton” of books, but this year there’d only been one buyer by the time I stopped by, so it’s a real hit-or-miss proposition. I should have bought a copy of the book – support your fellow writers and good Karma and all that jazz – but I didn’t have much cash on hand. Oh well, food for thought.

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon. A funky, fun festival in the city that I love. I even ended up with a “People’s Republic of Portland” hoodie and a “Put A Bird On It” t-shirt that were a steal at $30 total. Who could ask for more?

The Bottlecap Boys. They were so good, I gave them money.
This garlic and lemon chicken dish from The Horn Of Africa made for a tasty lunch.
Alberta Street is closed to traffic for 30 blocks for the annual Alberta Street Fair.
A camouflaged fortune teller giving a tarot card reading.
One more shot of my honey. What should we name our kids?

Dude, Where’s My Car?

There’s a Seinfeld episode called “The Parking Garage” where our intrepid foursome vainly search for Kramer’s car in a parking garage, but can’t remember where he parked it. Kramer is lugging around a heavy air conditioner, Elaine has a bag of goldfish that will die soon, George has to meet his parents by 6:15 to take them out for a celebratory anniversary dinner, and Jerry has to go to the bathroom very badly. Hours pass before they finally locate the car, and both Jerry and George end up arrested for public urination while Elaine’s goldfish die. And then the car won’t start. (Side note: Seinfeld was brilliant. I miss it). In an example of life imitating art, I found myself in a similar situation yesterday.

I had met up with some friends-slash-business-associates at Powell’s Books that morning. Heidi and Ross, from Sacramento Book Review, were in town to meet up with Chris from Portland Book Review and to take a mini-vacation. Though I’ve worked with Heidi and Ross for years, having originally gotten to know Heidi through her online diary/blog, this was the first time we’d met. The power of the internet never ceases to amaze me; through her writing, I felt like I knew Heidi intimately, and we hugged each other and chatted away like old friends the moment we were introduced. I have been blogging, in one form or another, on and off for ten years now, and have met a handful of people in real life. (Literally: there have been five). These folks have become friends, confidantes, business partners, and lovers. (Not all of them fall into every category, of course). I have found that friendships forged online and maintained over the years are every bit as strong as those that develop in a more traditional manner. Growing up an Air Force “brat” and moving around every few years, I never made lasting friends with anybody from my childhood. It’s made me somewhat of a loner in my adult life, so I value and cherish the friendships I have collected in recent years.

We talked for a good long while in Powell’s, browsed for a bit, and left. I’d arrived before anybody else, so I grabbed a paperback off the shelf – something to thumb through while waiting for the others in the in-store coffee shop – and got so engrossed in the book (T.C. Boyle’s Talk, Talk) that I ended up buying it, continuing a longstanding tradition of never leaving Powell’s without making a purchase of some sort.

A couple of cool things about Powell’s Books, which I mention frequently here because it’s my favorite Portland hangout: it used to be a car dealership, and you can still see evidence of that amidst the books.

Powell's Books
The Blue Room in Powell’s used to contain used cars.

And, the men’s bathrooms have upscale, literate graffiti lining the grout between the tiles. I call it groutffiti. I first noticed it years ago, and always get a chuckle out of it. Here’s just one example. Others include “Grout at the devil,” “The Grout Gatsby,” “Grout of Africa,” etc.

Powell's Books
Groutffiti at Powell’s.

After Powell’s, we headed to the Deschutes Brewery for lunch. I was intrigued enough to try their daily special – a grown-up version of a Sloppy Joe, served open-faced on Texas toast and topped with grated cheese and crispy onion straws. There was a bottle of Secret Aardvark Habanero Sauce to dip my fries into, and since I don’t like “real” beer, I opted for the “root” version. Great meal, great conversation, and Ross picked up the tab. Thanks, buddy. From there we proceeded to Voodoo Doughnut, another Portland institution I’ve mentioned before. When we walked the nine blocks or so to get there, it was like that scene out of National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark Griswold and family arrive at Wally World after a long cross-country trek, only to find out the park is closed. Voodoo is undergoing an expansion and remodel and, even though their website had indicated it would reopen by May 30, was in fact nowhere even close to being ready for business as the interior was gutted. So we took Ross’s rental car and drove to the east side location, Voodoo Too. Waited in line thirty minutes for doughnuts, but it was totally worth it. I took a box home for my kids and parents, and later enjoyed a Maple Blazer Blunt, a sugar doughnut made to resemble a lit joint. Great message I was sending the kids, eh?

Voodoo Doughnut, Maple Blazer Blunt
In which I attempt to win the coveted Father of the Year award.

But back to the parking garage.

After leaving Voodoo Too, Ross and Heidi dropped me off next to Powell’s, and I walked a block or two to the garage where I had parked my car. I remembered that I was on Level P3, but that was about it. I had exited across the street from a piano store, but I wandered around for quite awhile, unable to find that store. You have to understand, the underground parking garage is enormous, and Portland’s street blocks are small, so there are entrances and exits to the same garage all over the place, in seemingly random spots, doorways leading to the underground labyrinth sandwiched between shops in a three- or four-block radius. I gave up on finding the door from which I had exited, and decided instead to enter the garage from where I had driven in, figuring I could just descend to level three and find my car from there.

Only, level three is massive, as I quickly learned. I wasn’t armed with an air conditioner or about-to-expire fish, but I was carting around a big pink box of doughnuts and the book I had purchased from Powell’s. And I was dressed in layers. And it was really warm. Every time I turned a corner, expecting to find my car, I’d come up empty. I walked around blindly for a good fifteen minutes, wondering how many freakin’ corners there could possibly be in the garage. I’d travel a good distance, stop, look around, decide that somehow I must have missed my car, and then retrace my steps, turning left at this particular juncture rather than right. This place was like the maze in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and though I wasn’t being pursued by a hatchet-wielding madman, my heart did start to beat rather frantically as I realized that I was never, ever going to find my damn car and a sense of panic set in. Much like George, I had to be somewhere at a certain time in order to pick up my kids. And worse, like Jerry, I wouldn’t have minded happening upon a restroom at that point. Seconds away from unleashing that most primal of instincts – hot, salty tears – I rounded yet another corner and there she was, the ol’ ride. Salvation. I have never been so happy in my life to see a Hyundai, let me tell you. Fortunately, when I turned the key, she roared to life.

“Anybody ever lose their car down here?” I asked the attendant as I was paying. I figured it was probably something that happened all the time. They must have some emergency plan in place to assist those who had forgotten the whereabouts of their vehicles.

“Never,” she said.

Which made me feel pretty stupid.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…